PPL Montana dedicates uprated Rainbow Dam hydro facility

PPL Montana on July 10 officially dedicated a new 60-MW powerhouse at its Rainbow Dam hydroelectric facility near Great Falls, Mont.

The ceremony, which drew state and local officials, celebrated completion of a $245m redevelopment project. The new facility replaces a century-old powerhouse and boosts Rainbow’s generating capacity by 70%.

“One hundred and thirty years after Great Falls was founded on a vision that its waterfalls could power industry and progress, we remain inspired by the falls and by the power and potential energy of the Missouri River,” said Pete Simonich, vice president and Chief Operating Officer of PPL Montana.

“With just one unit, the new state-of-the-art powerhouse can generate about 70 percent more power than the old powerhouse’s eight units combined,” he added. “And it can produce enough clean, renewable electricity to power 45,000 homes.”

Construction of the new facility began in October 2009 and was completed earlier this year. The project required the removal of more than 500,000 tons of earth and rock. More than 50,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured, and 7 million pounds of rebar went into the new powerhouse.

“As projects like Rainbow demonstrate, hydropower continues to offer promise and potential,” said Simonich. “Modernization and upgrades to existing facilities offer an opportunity to increase capacity without the need for construction of new, large dams.”

In addition to the new powerhouse, the redevelopment project included the replacement of 23 miles of 100-kV power lines, substation upgrades at PPL Montana’s five Great Falls hydroelectric plants, and installation of a new Crooked Falls switchyard. The enhancements will strengthen the reliability and efficiency of electrical systems connecting PPL Montana’s Great Falls facilities to NorthWestern Energy‘s grid.

PPL Montana’s Rainbow Dam, which began operation in 1910, is 1,055 feet long and 29 feet high. The new powerhouse sits about 2,500 feet downstream from the dam and 200 feet from the old powerhouse. Water flows down a 2,500-foot power canal and through a 25-foot diameter penstock to the new turbine generator. The turbine’s slower rotation, wider flow passages and fewer rotating surfaces make it easier for fish to pass through unharmed, the company noted. The new facility began commercial operation in late April.

PPL Montana provides energy from coal-fired power plants at Colstrip and Billings, as well as 11 hydroelectric plants along West Rosebud Creek and the Missouri, Madison, Clark Fork and Flathead rivers. It has a combined generating capacity of more than 1,200 MW and has offices in Billings, Butte and Helena. PPL EnergyPlus operates a trading floor in Butte that markets and sells power for PPL Montana in wholesale and retail energy markets throughout the western United States. PPL Montana and PPL EnergyPlus are subsidiaries of PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL).

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.